Islay Distilleries in the 1880s

Alfred Barnard, an English writer, visited Scotland, Ireland and England in the 1880s together with friends to visit every working distillery present. Upon return he published a book called The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, which is a must have for the true whisky lover. Only three copies of the original book survived and a facsimile version is made from one copy which is still for sale. He didn't only write about the distilleries but gave a good overview of his journeys to these distilleries. Needless to say that he also visited the Isle of Islay and its nine distilleries. It's amazing to read the amount of time people needed back then to travel from one place to another, the following quote will explain why:

From Port Ellen to Bowmore: We found the coach drive from Port Ellen to Bowmore one of the most uninteresting that we had ever experienced. During the journey of four hours we saw but two or three habitations, and scarcely any trees; in all our wanderings we have never travelled by such a dismal and lonely road. Fortunately we were a large party and a merry ally, or we should have wearied of this dismal track long before we reached our destination. Sandy, our aged coachman, was a character, and drove us at about the rate of four miles an hour. We continually remonstrated with him, but to no purpose, and plied him with nips of Whisky to induce him to urge his steeds along, but no persuasions would induce him to trot his horses, except at those parts of the road where they were accustomed to increase their speed. Some of us walked many a mile, and were yet able to keep ahead of him.

On the road to Ardbeg: Journeying along we were continually reminded by the ruins of castles and churches that we were on one of the most historic islands of Scotland, in the land of romance and the home of the "Lords of the Isles," rendered classic by one of Sir Walter Scott's finest poems. As we reached the top of a hill, a sudden view of beautiful Ardbeg, as seen in our illustration, presented itself to view and recalled our minds from romantic wanderings.

Seems that a direct road from Port Ellen to Bowmore wasn't available at the time and they had to travel over Bridgend (or was it because of the hotel), most likely the road which is now referred to as "the B8016", although maps from around 1900 do show a road from Port Ellen to Bowmore. Another quote refers of the trip to the Caol Ila distillery:

Quote from the Caol Ila chapter: We soon came in sight of the Caol Ila distillery lying directly beneath us, and we wonder for a moment how we are to get down to it. Our driver however, knew the road well, for often had he been here before, and turning sharp to the right, we commenced the descent through a little hamlet of houses. But the way is so steep, and our nerves none of the best, that we insist upon doing the remainder of the descent on foot, much to the disgust of the driver, who muttered strange words in Gaelic. His remarks, however, are lost upon us, that language not having formed part of our education.

Visitors of Islay will know about the hospitality of its inhabitants and the following quote shows that things haven't changed much on Islay; "The Islay people are very hospitable. We had lunched at Ardbeg the day before, and at Laphroaig Mr. Johnston would not let us commence our labours until we had partaken of his hospitality". All chapters are very interesting to read and give us a window back in time to the late 1880s, as well as a very good description of the technical details of every distillery on Islay. The book itself has no copyright anymore and I know several sites who have published several or all chapters of this book. They are mostly OCR scanned versions which aren't spell checked and still contain errors. I myself received the Islay chapters from a friend who owns the Scotland from the Roadside website, who was kind enough to correct most errors (thanks Bruce). The chapters are a pleasure to read so enjoy the Islay Distilleries by Alfred Barnard

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